The Death of Sincerity

Paul Krugman had a post today calling Obama the WYSIWYG President:

There’s a lot of dismay/rage on the left over Obama, a number of cries that he isn’t the man progressives thought they were voting for.

But that says more about the complainers than it does about Obama himself. If you actually paid attention to the substance of what he was saying during the primary, you realized that

(a) There wasn’t a lot of difference among the major Democratic contenders

(b) To the extent that there was a difference, Obama was the least progressive

Now it’s true that many progressives were ardent Obama supporters, with their ardency mixed in with a fair bit of demonization of Hillary Clinton. And maybe they were right — but not on policy grounds. (I still remember people angrily telling me that if Hillary got in, she’d fill her economics team with Rubinites).

So what you’re getting is what you should have seen.

This is just the introduction to a different argument, but it struck me as a pretty good demonstration of just how debased our political culture is. I mean, this situation has come about because the default assumption is now that politicians automatically mean something other than what they appear to be saying. We’ve gotten to the point where progressives consider it a rude shock that the President is doing more or less what he said he would do when he was running for office.

That’s really pretty depressing, when you think about it. People feel that their hopes have been dashed, because their hopes were based on the presumption that their candidate was insincere. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

This probably connects to Kevin Guilfoile’s Infinite Summer post about sincerity. If you’d like a cheerier version of the same phenomenon, check out his footnote about Dave Eggers and Applebees. I have to go watch some more comically awful football, though.

Comments

  1. #1 Michael P
    December 21, 2009

    During the primary season (on February 20th), Obama and Clinton held a nationally televised debate in Austin, TX where they had some clear policy differences — and specifically in regard to health care reform.

    The one thing that Obama said during that debate that made me inclined to prefer him over Clinton was that he did not believe in levying an individual insurance mandate on citizens.

    So much for sincerity or consistency on the part of this president.

    Krugman’s column is simply cheer-leading for the head of the Democratic Party and an attempt to marginalize critics (though this time Krugman’s target is critics from the left). It is neither accurate or insightful.

  2. #2 Tyler DiPietro
    December 22, 2009

    Well, yeah. Except for the individual mandate, which he indeed pulled a 180 on, Obama is pretty much the center-right president he said he was gonna be on the campaign trail. He sure as hell wasn’t a liberal. On foreign policy he was occasionally more dovish than his primary opponent, since Obama said he would launch missiles into Pakistani territory while Clinton said she would use nukes. But other than that, he was just another invade-the-world, America can damn well bomb whoever the fuck it wants candidate. Economic policy? No surprises there either, the most progressive he called for was raising top marginal tax rates to to a level lower than they were under Reagan.

    Sorry pwoggies, you got what you voted for, not what you were imagining you were voting for.

  3. #3 Owen
    December 22, 2009

    Drew Westen has an opinion piece on Huffpo that I think does a pretty good job of describing Obama. I’m not too surpised, Obama seemed to promise everything to everyone and that never goes very well.

  4. #4 Phillip IV
    December 22, 2009

    In the far-away past, before the Republican party’s descent into utter insanity, a good starting point for forming your opinion of a politician used to be a point mid-way between the way he described himself and the way his opponents described him.

    I would guess that many people thought Obama was more progressive than he is (and had stated) because of the way the Republicans tried to paint him as a socialist – ignoring the fact that the Republicans have circled their wagons and consider absolutely anything moving on the outside a socialist.

  5. #5 Russell
    December 22, 2009

    Given Obama’s sharp and on point criticisms of the Bush administration’s stance on war power and civil liberties, it seems to me we have every right to be disappointed that he has continued many of those, and only half-heartedly rejected the worse.

  6. #6 bcooper
    December 22, 2009

    Given Obama’s sharp and on point criticisms of the Bush administration’s stance on war power and civil liberties, it seems to me we have every right to be disappointed that he has continued many of those, and only half-heartedly rejected the worse.

    Exactly. Commenter #1′s point about the mandate is a good one, too. I think there is plenty to be disappointed about based on what Obama has actually said, so I’m not sure what Krugman is on about here.

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